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August 1, 2016

Pokémon Go Sucks

Well, this is it; the final nail in the coffin. Niantic Labs forced Pokémon-tracking sites like Pokevision and Poké Hound to close. Pokevision had become my sole reason to keep going in Pokémon Go, so now the app is dead to me. I am not even remotely sorry for what I am going to say here; I am not flying into a blind rage at the app, I have played with it enough to see all of its defects. I know what I’m talking about here. I was willing to give the app a chance as long as I had Pokévision, despite its MANY problems. It was the last thing that kept me going despite the many other defects that the app had...

I talked about the stupidity of some players around the app, I discussed the points of view around the app, today I am talking about the app itself and its defects. Its qualities, I no longer care. It’s been fun while it lasted. Oh, what am I saying, my frustration quickly overtook my enjoyment most times I played anyway. I am still willing to defend the app and say that most people playing it are smart and won’t do stupid shit, because I can defend the app’s players. I can’t defend the app itself anymore. I accept that others still play it, but I refuse to play it any more myself. Here’s a complete list of what bugs me.

12. The insane cost in real money (Canada-only)
Starting with a problem that concerns my part of the world, there is a serious problem with the in-game purchases. See, this game is a partnership between Niantic and Nintendo, but Niantic is the big name that is doing most of the work, and they’re an American enterprise. Therefore, they want your money in USD, according to the prices they fixed in USD. I am Canadian, and the conversion rates between the two are somewhere around 1.40$ CAD for 1$ USD. In other words, we in Canada pay 40% more on the game’s shop. The 100 Pokécoins pack costs 1.40$, the 500 Pokécoins pack costs over 6$. The only Pokécoins pack that gives more Pokécoins than the number of cents you pay… is the last one, 14500 Pokécoins for 140$. What a load of bullshit. I can understand that Niantic wants the amount they’ve ordered in USD, but conversion rates really ruin this. How bad is it in other countries? I wish to know.

11. Lures and Incenses… Nope.
As you level up in the game, you might gain some Lures and Incenses. The concept for each is fairly simple: By activating an Incense, more Pokémon will appear near you in the next 30 minutes. Lures are the same, except you attach one to a Pokéstop and everyone around can reap the benefits. I live in a calm suburban sector of my town, but I am lucky to live two minutes away from the only Pokéstop at least one kilometer around. I’ve activated some Incenses, I’ve also activated at least one Lure… and I can tell you, they’re not really worth it. First off, chances are most of the spawns will be the same stupid common Pokémon you’ve already seen hundreds of. Chances are that you won’t encounter many rarer Pokémon; Hell, the first Jigglypuff I caught was thanks to a Lure, and if I recall, it was the only “rare” Pokémon I got during that half-hour. Similarly, Incenses are nearly useless if not used in a spot where more Pokémon have a chance to spawn, and Lures are useless if you don’t have a Pokéstop nearby.

10. Revives are useless
While we’re on the topic of items… The last time I went downtown, I tried beating a Gym. First, I was never told I had to fight multiple opponents. Second, in-battle the app would keep slowing down; this, after I lost and my unique Pokémon had its HP down to 0, I could just bring its HP back to maximum with Potions. Revives are meant to be used to, well, revive a fainted Pokémon. If a Pokémon’s HP hits 0, it’s supposed to be fainted, and potions shouldn’t work on it as long as it’s fainted. Guess what? I could just replenish my Vaporeon’s HP with potions even if it was supposed to have fainted. Revives are completely pointless, and yet we receive them numerous times by spinning Pokéstops. What the Hell? Can’t we at least sell the items we don’t need? …No? Fuck!

9. Way too many candies for evolution
Many Pokémon are already plenty rare, which makes it a pain to try and evolve them. For those who still haven’t played Pokémon Go but know the original games, first off, don’t try the app, second, here the evolution system is simplified. All Pokémon evolve when you give them a number of candies of their base species, anywhere from 12 (for the common Weedle and Pidgey) to 25 (for the other common base Pokémon with two evolutions) to 50 (for the unique evolution of some Pokémon, for the third-stage evolution of some other Pokémon), to 100 (for the third-stage evolution of some rarer Pokémon) to 400 (for the motherfucking Magikarp, which I haven’t even caught one of). Thing is, catching a Pokémon gives you only three candies of that Pokémon’s base species, and sending one to Prof Willow only rewards you with one additional candy. That means that, for the lowest required amount (12), you need to catch at least 4 Pokémon; one to evolve and three to send to Willow. For Magikarp, you need to catch 101; one to evolve, the others you can guess. Needless to say, most Trainers have a bunch of Raticate in their teams, many have lots of Beedrill, and the most tenacious ones have four or five Pidgeot; but good luck getting rarer Pokémon to ever evolve. Hatching a Pokémon from an egg gives you many candies of that Pokémon’s species, but the downside is that you have to walk for many kilometers each day to make it worth it. And stock up on Incubators.

8. No Internet Connectivity/ No GPS Signal
The most common error messages I’ve seen popping up in the game. “No GPS signal” means that the app couldn’t track your position for a reason or another. I’ve seen that this message can go on and off at will depending on where I am. It’s no secret that Pokémon Go needs to know your position, but with such a fickle system that works for a bit and then stops working… it’s annoying. “No Internet Connectivity” is a similar issue, though it’s apparently got more to do with the phone the app is on than it’s a problem with the app itself. And yet, even when I have the best settings for Internet connectivity, I still wind up seeing this message pop up every once in a while.

7. The lack of Pokéstops in less populated places
One of the defects of Pokémon Go is that your best chances to “catch them all” is to live in a major city. Or else, you’re screwed. The further into suburbs you go, the less Pokéstops appear. Gyms almost entirely vanish from the map. As I mentioned, I live on the border of my city, in a suburban area, and the Pokéstop two minutes of walk away from me is the only one at least a kilometer around. Irony is, it’s a small park for kids, yet 30 minutes of walk from here there’s a much bigger park with more people going there. Meanwhile, in the downtown sector, if you threw a rock you’d hit a Pokéstop if they were real. In general, the idea of Pokémon Go was that infrastructures of the game could be found anywhere. Except clearly, Niantic is following an algorithm that puts way more Pokéstops and Gyms where there’s a greater concentration of cell phones. I see the point, but it really sucks for those who don’t live in the big city.

6. The lack of Pokémon in less populated places
Following the same algorithm, Pokémon get rarer and rarer as you go further from the big city. There, you are certain to see more Pokémon show up if you walk for a minute; here, you’d be lucky to see anything show up. I am relatively lucky because I live close to a frequent spawning point, but that still means waiting for that one rare Pokémon to appear. In a way, this algorithm favors cities, which makes sense, but shouldn’t there be an opposite algorithm that makes Pokémon spawn where there are LESS phones? So that people are encouraged to visit other places, go into suburban areas, take walks in the forest, go into the nature? The nature which, in normal Pokémon games, is where Pokémon are normally found? I mean, yes, I can drive to the city, sure, I can go catch Pokémon there. But I just feel there is a kind of irony to the way Niantic programmed this at the moment.

5. The broken tracking system
One of the main selling points from Day 1 was the tracking system and how it would show how close or how far Pokémon would be from you, with a three-step indicator. One step, the Pokémon is very close; two, it’s a bit further but not all that far; three steps, the Pokémon is pretty far, but if you walk fast you may get to it. And one of the main complaints of Pokémon Go after release, from Day 1, was that this thing was outright broken. For most – if not ALL – users, every “nearby Pokémon” has the three steps, even the ones that are right next to the player’s avatar. As far as we know, Niantic was planning to correct this at some point in the future. For now, what we got with the latest updates… is a complete elimination of the three-step system. So… Niantic, is that your go-to solution? When something doesn’t work, you silently dispose of it rather than try to make things better?

4. The app crashing when a Pokémon is caught in a ball
My first moments of anger directed at the game were when the server wouldn’t respond after a Pokémon has been caught in a Pokéball. Thing is, this happened as soon as contact between the Pokémon and the ball was made, so unless you restarted the app, you wouldn’t know whether or not you caught the Pokémon. The only upside to this is that, even if the app crashed, if it was guaranteed that the Pokémon was caught, it would appear in your Pokémon collection. The downside is that it tended to happen to me far more often when facing rare Pokémon – or at least, Pokémon I didn’t yet own or was encountering for the first time. That’s already pretty bad. And thus, for a long time, my question after a ball was thrown wasn’t “will this Pokémon be caught?”, it was “will it crash or not?”. That’s pretty unreliable for a game… but it gets worse.

3. The app crashing… every other time
Of course, if it crashed only when catching a Pokémon, it would be annoying, but not impossible to manage. But Pokémon Go had a tendency to crash for almost any reason.
-It couldn’t reach the server, and the spinning Pokéball on the top left (indicating the game was saving and attempting to access the server) would stop mid-spin;
-I was browsing the Shop;
-I was checking my collection of Pokémon, sending some to Prof Willow, renaming others (mostly the Eevee);
-I was close to a Pokéstop;
-An egg in my collection was close to hatching (yes, it would crash repeatedly for the last 200 meters I would still have to traverse to hatch an egg);
-And sometimes at random.
Not to mention that, frequently, when I would leave the app to do something else on my phone and then go back to the app, the game would start over, showing me again the Niantic Labs logo for a good 30 seconds and then the “Look where you’re going” image with the Gyarados. As if it crashed while I was away. Worse even, when the app crashed, my attempts at closing it by returning to the phone’s main menu would somehow leave the phone in a sort of limbo between the game and a completely black screen, for numerous minutes, locking me out. I would play for 2 or 3 minutes, then this would happen and I would be stuck for 5-6 minutes. By the end, this seemed to get a little better, it happened less frequently. Alas, it was too little too late. Is my phone to blame? My HTC Desire 601 never behaved that way before….

2. Always the same goddamn species
I get it, the app follows the rarity of Pokémon in the games of the first Generation. That means there’s an overabundance of Pidgey, Rattata, Weedle – the early common critters who, outside of Pidgeot, rarely make it to the end. Why would they? Their evolved forms’ stats are average for some, mediocre for others. However, walking around the neighborhood and seeing ONLY these three can get REALLY grating at times. Sure, there’s also Eevee, the fourth Com Mon, and this one can at least turn into pretty powerful creatures if you catch enough, but that’s not sufficient. Where are the Electabuzz, the Gastly, the Magikarp? In all my time playing, I saw exactly one Magikarp on the Tracker, and never found it.
I can understand why there are so few common species around. This was only Gen 1, there weren’t that many Pokémon yet (and 150 is tiny compared to the 721 the Pokémon franchise now has, not counting the upcoming Gen 7!). If more Gens get added to the game someday, we will get more diversity for common Pokémon, it would be more interesting. A bunch of Hoothoot at night, Zigzagoon and Poochyena galore, maybe plenty of Bidoof… Until we get there (and the app gets bigger and slower), we’ll have to endure the thousands of Weedle and Rattata. And we’ll keep on meeting more Pidgey, enough so that if they were real, we could probably solve world hunger by sending all the Pidgey we caught and a bunch of barbecues to malnourished countries. But none of these reasons compare to... well, you probably guessed it.

1. Pokévision shutting down (and Niantic Labs' other policies)
After seeing all of the problems, I was close to quitting the app altogether. Too much trouble, too many bugs, and I was getting constantly angry at it rather than feeling joy – like, you know, what’s supposed to happen when playing. When a game becomes a chore, it’s no longer a game, and with the same Pokémon always showing up, Pokémon Go was becoming a chore to me and many others. Then, my interest sparked anew when I learned about Pokévision, a little site that tracked the appearances and disappearances of creatures around a point you choose on the map. I was fucking fed up of Pidgey, Rattata and Weedle, so I decided to keep that site open and click again every few minutes, running out only when something worthwhile showed up on the map. I can’t say it allowed me to catch a lot of new Pokémon, but I did catch more uncommon Pokémon that I already had, especially for the species I needed more candies from. I considered Pokévision a fair tool to use in my neighborhood where spawns were rare and I wasn't gonna go out all day to encounter the same three stupid species.
Here’s a little trick of the trade. You know, the Terms of Service you agree to when you purchase an app? That very long wall of text filled with complex terms and sentences about rights and stuff? Yeeeaaaaaaahhhhh… For Pokémon Go, you shouldn’t just swiftly click I Agree to push this aside. This app has some really worrisome rules. For starters, Niantic entirely forbids the use of sites like Pokévision. The contract explicitly says that you cannot “attempt to access or search the Services or Content, or download Content from the Services through the use of any technology or means other than those provided by Niantic or other generally available third-party web browsers (including, without limitation, automation software, bots, spiders, crawlers, data-mining tools, or hacks, tools, agents, engines, or devices of any kind)”. That means that any site that grabs data from Niantic’s computers is not to be used; and that includes all Pokémon-tracking websites, whether it’s Pokévision, PokéWhere, PokéDetector, or Poké Hound. In even simpler terms: Fuck you, player; search for those Pokémon by yourself.
Or, as John Hanke, CEO of Niantic Lab, says, “[…] People are only hurting themselves because it takes some fun out of the game. People are hacking around trying to take data out of our system and that's against our terms of service.”
I’ll tell you what takes the fun out of a game: Searching for 15 minutes for a Pokémon and never finding it, especially if it’s a fucking rare Pokémon. What else takes the fun out of the game? Living in a suburb, where spawns are rare. We’re not hurting ourselves. We’re trying to find some enjoyment in a beta that is extremely broken and your development team isn’t working to repair it. Worse even, you seem to sweep under the rug any issue the game has. The first few days of launch, where the app had access to an insane amount of data from one’s Google account; remember that? And now, instead of repairing the three-step system, you get rid of it? That’s not how a company gains the respect of its fans. That’s how it gets their ire.
Oh, but I had forgotten; we can’t sue, either. Because another clause in the Terms of Service is this one: “Arbitration notice: Except if you opt out and except for certain types of disputes described in the “Agreement to Arbitrate” section below, you agree that disputes between you and Niantic will be resolved by binding, individual arbitration, and you are waiving your right to a trial by jury or to participate as a plaintiff or class member in any purported class action or representative proceeding.” The arbitrator chosen for this legal procedure? Hired by Niantic Labs. If you have a problem with them, they have the big end of the stick by hiring the third-party person who'll settle the dispute. It’s normal that an enterprise adds points to their ToS regarding legal action, but Niantic went with the shadier option, the binding arbitration, where the public has little chance of overcoming them.
Mister John Hanke, you clearly have no clue why things like Pokévision popped up. Perhaps it has to do with the outright broken system in the app and the many issues it currently has. Perhaps it’s because a large number of gamers actually see this as a viable tool to enjoy the game far more. Perhaps it's because many suburbia-bound folks are also tired of hunting the rare Pokémon and will give up if they don't get something to find quickly the diamonds among the worms, rats and pigeons. Sorry, sir, but you do not hold the final definition of the word “fun”, don’t pretend that what you consider “fun” is what everyone else considers “fun”. The interest of a video game is that everyone can play it as they like, and this is especially true for Pokémon. Some Pokémon players only want to participate in battles and prepare their Pokémon for competitions. Others want to catch them all. And then, some do Nuzlocke challenges. You cannot force players to play Pokémon Go the way YOU want to, sir. That is not how video games work.
Perhaps getting down and talking to actual players, listening to what advice the fanbase has to give, would help. Gamers have been using sites like GameFAQs for as long as they’ve been around, because any gamer has the right to go and seek some help when they’re stuck in a game. Pokévision is basically that: We know we won’t grow super-speed to catch that Jynx that popped up ten minutes of driving away from us, so we should be allowed to know where and when rare Pokémon pop up near our homes, without having the battery-emptying app always turned on. That goes for players living in cities, but it also goes for those who live in suburban areas. Like me. We are trying to play this game to the fullest, and if Pokévision is what we need to enjoy it, then why couldn’t we use it? That site was the only reason I still bothered playing. Personally, without Pokévision, the game is dead to me, and I expect hundreds of thousands more to stop playing as well.
I was willing to defend your game. I recognized that it was a new activity to do as a family, I defended it in the face of those who insulted the game and called its players “zombies”. I walked more in the last two weeks than I usually do. But I am sorry, I can’t defend it anymore, with all these bugs and the worrisome Terms of Service...

Screw Pokémon Go. Screw it, I quit. Enjoy those 9 Canadian dollars I sent, Niantic Labs. Until you fix this shit and allow sites like Pokévision to exist as companions, as helpers for the players, you won’t be seeing my avatar – or my money – again.

Good day to all the readers of this blog who went through the trouble of reading this 3000+-word rant. Good day to you, mister John Hanke, and may you seek to ameliorate both your app and the relationship you wish your enterprise to have with your customers.

Everyone, have a nice week.